India’s Clean Energy Revolution steadily setting a positive pace

Indian government has set an ambitious target of replacing coal with renewable energy over time and thereby deliver huge savings and also generate millions of jobs in the RE sector . Slowly this is no longer a pipe dream but a true reality. According to NITI Aayog, investing in renewable energy (RE) brings environmental benefits like reduced pollution while creating employment opportunities. Therefore, RE has the potential to ensure energy security, energy access and sustainability. Our country can save up to Rs 54,000 crore in power costs and reduce air pollution by replacing expensive coal plants with renewables . It is now widely accepted that new coal power plants are not financially competitive with new renewables in India especially with solar power reaching a record low of 2.44 and wind reaching a record low of 2.64.


Also, according to a Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) study, the Indian Railways plans to draw up to 25% of its power needs from renewables and achieve the 5 GW solar target by 2025. Indian Railways is also planning to set up 500 MW of solar generation capacity that will meet the energy needs of over 8,000 stations across the country going forward. Analysts said that the plan has the potential to cut down the railways’ energy bill by 44%.

Second major impact will be the solar water pumping systems . This market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 18.7% during FY 2018-22. Currently, 30 million agricultural pumps are installed in India of which nearly 7 million pumps are diesel based and remaining are grid connected. However, due to unreliable grid supply and increasing diesel prices, solar water pumping system offers immense opportunities to replace conventional pumps.

Third positive impact is the government’s Street Lighting National Programme (SLNP), over fifty lakh conventional street lights have been replaced with LEDs, resulting in annual energy savings of 400 million unit and reduction of 3.3 lakh tonnes of CO2 annually. Under the SLNP, the govt intends to replace two crore conventional street lights.

Furthermore India’s UJALA program, through which the country has distributed more than 241 million LED bulbs, making it the largest and the first zero-subsidy national LED lighting program in the world. Residential consumers can get LED bulbs from UJALA distribution centers or through participating retailers and pay upfront or in smaller installments, which make the bulbs more accessible for poorer customers.  The program has helped save more than 6,000 MW of energy and resulted in a 25-million ton reduction in CO2 emissions per year. India plans to replace all of its 770 million incandescent bulbs with LEDs by 2019.

Also solar power is set to replace LPG and Kerosene use including subsidy on LPG & Kerosene. Two wheelers and three wheelers consume 62% and 6% of petrol respectively in India. The saved LPG/Autogas replaced by electricity in domestic sector can be used by two and three wheelers with operational cost and least pollution benefits. Instead of using LPG as heating fuel in domestic sector, for higher end usage, LPG can be also converted into alkylate which is a premium gasoline blending stock because it has exceptional antiknock properties and gives clean burning,

So a twin-edged measure to improve power generation along with adoption of energy efficient technologies, including super and ultra-supercritical, would go a long way in ensuring the nation’s trajectory towards an energy revolution. With a sweeping commitment to solar power, India is emerging as a front runner in the global fight against climate change. Apart from measures to improve generation it would make sense to also whole-heartedly adopt the adage that energy saved is energy generated.


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Looking at renewable power transmission line difficulties

Renewable energy developers are worried that transmission facilities are not keeping pace with power generation even as 12,000 MW of solar projects under construction and another 7,000 MW of wind projects have been bid out since wind auctions began in February 2017. Developers expressed fear that completed projects might not be able to start functioning because all ‘bays’ at the nearest substations are already occupied and transmission lines already carrying their full capacity.

Transmission Woes

The main reason is that so far there has been no coordination between ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE), Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) and Central Electricity Authority (CEA). Solar Corporation of India (SECI), which is under MNRE, has been holding auctions for both wind and solar projects without making sure that enough evacuation facilities are available. The problem is most acute in Gujarat where, over 2,000 MW of wind projects are being built, but substations can only accommodate 400 MW.

The solution lies in building more substations and transmission lines, but the process will take much longer than the time the currently under-construction projects take to get completed. With the private sector having been allowed into this segment, auctions will have to be held for the construction of substations, with PGCIL competing against private players as getting the substations actually built will take at least three years.

Solar projects have to be ready in 18 months or less, according to the power purchase agreements (PPAs) signed. Some developers suggested doing away with the bidding through a government ordinance and assigning the task entirely to PGCIL, which, if it starts work immediately, could have the substations ready earlier. However, PGCIL builds substations and transmission lines only for inter-state links, while state transmission units (STUs) are responsible for intra-state ones, and these too will need to work on a war footing to meet the requirements of new projects.

I strongly feel the Implementation of the green energy corridor project, meant specifically to connect renewable energy plants to the national grid, needs to be speeded up. In 2017-18, 350 circuit km of transmission lines were installed under the green energy corridor project, with 1,900 circuit km targeted in 2018-19. However, the parliamentary standing committee on energy has recently pointed out that, given the target, the budget allocation of Rs 6 billion for 2018-19 is far too low.

Even though the electricity sector in India is growing at rapid pace. During the current year 2017-18 (Upto 30.11.2017), the Peak Demand is about 164.1 GW and the Installed Capacity is 330.8 GW with generation mix of Thermal (66.2%), Hydro (13.6%), Renewable 18.2%) and Nuclear (2.0%). The natural resources for electricity generation in India are unevenly dispersed and concentrated in a few pockets. Most of the Hydro resources are located in the Himalayan foothills, North Eastern Region (NER).  Coal reserves are concentrated in Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, parts of Madhya Pradesh, whereas lignite is located in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. Also lot of power station, generating from Gas and renewable energy sources like Solar, Wind etc. have been installed across all directions at various parts of country.

It is time that Power-grid Corporation of India Limited (POWERGRID), Central Transmission Utilities (CTU), which plans inter-state transmission system (ISTS) and State Transmission Utilities (STU) (namely State Transco/ SEBs) take complete responsibility for the development of Intra -State Transmission System.



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